Dr. Seuss – Advertising Genius

In June of 2002 I attended Roy Williams Magical Worlds curriculum at the Wizard Academy. Before attending, the idea of Dr. Seuss and advertising mixing together never crossed my mind. In fact, before Roy Williams I’m not sure if I had much exposure to Dr. Seuss at all. So that started it for me.

Now I’d like to tell you that I have a great memory and that I can recite to you all I learned at the Magical Worlds seminar but alas I don’t remember all that much because I was drunk the whole time. Yup… drunk. This was the only seminar I have ever attended that served wine during the entire seminar (Yes- DURING the seminar). Our class drank so much wine we ended up with the nickname “The Out of Control Purple Beagles.”

Out of Control Purple Beagles - All Holding Wine Glasses. Magical Worlds June 21, 2002

But hey… even inebriated I managed to jot down some notes…

Roy Williams main idea is that Broca (a part of our brain) filters out the ordinary, boring and the predictable and it is our job as advertisers to surprise Broca so it lets our messages through.

There are several ways to accomplish this but the most interesting to me is what Roy Williams calls “Seussing.”

Between the meter and the crazy made-up words that Dr. Seuss uses his message easily thrills Broca AND your kids…

Broca likes words it’s never heard but understands intuitively. Words like Sheeple, Woot, and Punked are examples. It also gets excited with new ways of saying everyday things… Like when the Grinch steals the roast beast not roast beef.

Broca also likes meter…

Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss) found early on that anapest is a very powerful sound tool.

In 1937, while Geisel was returning from an ocean voyage to Europe, the rhythm of the ship’s engines inspired the poem that became his first book.

He took over the children’s book market from good old “Dick” and “Jane” with his powerful use of strange words and – his use of anapest.

Most of Geisel’s books are written in anapestic tetrameter. (Although sometimes he would use trochaic tetrameter and from time to time iambic tetrameter.)

Remember the “If it doesn’t fit you must acquit.” from the OJ trial? That was anapest.

According to Williams…

“Any competent cognitive neuroscientist will confirm that echoic memory is vastly superior to iconic memory. Words, statements, phrases, jingles, and songs, which surprise Broca’s area of the brain, are much more easily implanted and recalled than visual images.

Echoic retention causes people to remember things they never committed to memory, and a working knowledge of it gives one the ability to work miracles through the power of words. Echoic retention and the power of words is the heart and soul of advertising, though very few ad professionals understand it.”

Since I learned all this, I have looked wherever I could for examples of “Seussing” put into play by advertisers…  I saw some recently on sites like Woot.com, lots in the Roy Williams books and in his Monday Morning Memo and maybe a few examples on one or two other sites but not as much as I’d hoped.  I like to study and copy masters so the more material the better.

It wasn’t until 2008 when my daughter was born that I found what I was looking for.

The first thing that popped into my mind when I went to buy my daughter her first books (thanks to the Roy Williams introduction) was Dr. Seuss. So I bought the usual Cat In The Hat and Green Eggs and Ham and began reading them when she was just a few months old.

In addition to memorizing large portions of The Cat In The Hat due to reading repetition at my daughter’s insistence – her interest in Dr. Seuss led me to look at Dr. Seuss stuff online… and lo and behold I started finding advertisements that were illustrated by Dr. Seuss…

It seems that Dr. Seuss was in advertising BEFORE he became a famous children’s book writer.

The ad above was illustrated for Standard Oil’s Essolube Motor Oil. You’ll notice the “Seussing.” And it seems Dr. Seuss did a whole series like that with Foil the Moto-munchus, Foil the Moto-raspus and Foil the Zerodoccus. All with his unique, colorful illustrations.

I got the above ad at a website that is a virtual swipe file of Dr. Suess ads.

Now that I hope you have a better appreciation of Dr. Seuss I’m thinking you may want to study some of those ads and their history. I hope I built up the value of doing so.

On the value note… Here’s a great little ditty where the Grinch convinces a Hoobub that a piece of green string has more value than the sun.

***That sun, let me tell you, is dangerous stuff!
It can freckle your face. It can make your skin rough.
When the sun gets too hot, it can broil you like fat!
But this piece of green string, sir, will NEVER do that!
THIS PIECE OF GREEN STRING IS COLOSSAL! IMMENSE!
AND, TO YOU … WELL, I’ll SELL IT FOR 98 CENTS!”
And the Hoobub … he bought!
(And I’m sorry to say
That Grinches sell Hoobubs such things every day.)***

– From The Hoobub and the Grinch by Dr. Seuss as it appeared in May 1955 Redbook

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